15 MARCH 2011


Give credit when and where it's due.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was the first world leader to support the freedom demand of the Libyan people. A week after the 17 February start of the Day of Anger that spread on its own from Benghazi to Cyrenaica to Tripoli, when the Permanent Five Members of the Security Council were still evaluating their position, our Secretary General was holding the fort from day one. When even a usually outspoken U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton was pondering a "situation too murky to make a judgment about what to do next, as we gain a greater understanding of what is happening," Mr. Ban authorized a statement on 21 February about his outrage at press reports that Libyan authorities had been firing at demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters. "Such attacks, if confirmed," he warned, "would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law." Once again he called for an immediate end of violence. He was in touch with key member states about the developing situation.

Two days later, on 25 February, he told the Security Council that it was about time to consider concrete action on Libya, stressing that "loss of time means loss of more lives." By then, U.N. estimates indicated that more than 1,000 people had been killed; the Eastern part of the country, particularly regional capital Benghazi, had became under effective control of opposition groups; there were daily clashes around the capital city of Tripoli; people could not leave their home for fear of being shot by Qaddafi mercenaries. Qaddafi made his rambling speech describing his own people as hallucinating rats and threatening to clean them house by house, "zanga zanga" (street to street), "zqaq lizqaq" (home to home).

While several Council members were still wavering, Mr. Ban stated with dignity and courage: "I strongly believe that the first obligation of the international community is to do everything possible to ensure the immediate protection of civilians at demonstrable risk. Indeed, if further proof is required, it should be sought simultaneously with measures to afford protection." He went on to admonish once more reluctant key states: "It is time for the Security Council to take concrete action. The hours and days ahead will be decisive for Libyans and their country, with equally important implications for the wider region. The statements and actions of the Security Council are eagerly awaited and will be closely followed throughout the region. Whatever your course, let us be mindful of the urgency of the moment."

It helped that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that her country will work through the U.N.; that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is positively inclined to the U.N. approach since his Security Council days; that the U.K. and France habitually opt for a U.N. agreed draft; and that China would find its interest to be on the right side of history during a period of change. Yet, the obvious fact is that Ban Ki-moon took active positions in cobbling a consensus.

The Secretary General maintained the momentum the following day. As the Council finally and unanimously adopted its resolution, he welcomed it as a vital step, a clear expression of the will of a united community of nations The actions of the regime in Libya, he went on, were "clear cut violations of all norms governing international behaviour and serious transgressions of international human rights and international law. They are unacceptable. It is of great importance that the Council in response has reached consensus and is determined to uphold its responsibilities for the maintenance of peace and security."

That clear leadership position by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicated that he had not merely awaited an eventual consensus among Council members, but played a pivotal role in reaching it. He took the same approach when addressing the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly. There is no more impunity for crimes against humanity, he announced, noting that the "world has spoken with one voice." He stressed, rightly, however, that any changes in societies in that region should come from within.

Ban Ki-moon's impressive stand did not only make its mark with inspired -- some surprised -- delegations, it reverberated in the worldwide media and within civil society groups in the region. Many U.N. veterans felt that the Secretary General asserted a leadership role long missed. Clearly, the current Secretary General, who is generally reserved, comes across best when he speaks from the heart.

Clearly he will need consistent support, which will most likely accumulate with a consistent leadership position.

In his quest for regaining the U.N. role and the defense of human dignity, we are behind our Secretary General.